Q&A: Writer and director Hannah Fidell discusses romantic drama "6 Years"

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Filmed on UT’s campus, “6 Years” revolves around the abusive relationship of fictional UT students Melanie (Taissa Farmiga) and Dan (Ben Rosenfield). After its premiere at South By Southwest in March,“6 Years” was released by Netflix on Tuesday.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Duplass Brothers Productions

Editor’s Note: This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

With no set script, writer and director Hannah Fidell headed to the Berkshires with actors Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield to work on their film “6 Years.” Filmed on UT’s campus, the romantic drama revolves around the struggling and abusive relationship of fictional students Melanie Clark (Farmiga) and Dan Mercer (Rosenfield). After its world premiere at South By Southwest this year, the film was released Tuesday on Netflix. The Daily Texan spoke with Fidell about the film’s themes and improvisational style. 

The Daily Texan: Why did you decide to rely on improvisation for “6 Years?”

Hannah Fidell: I wanted to use improv because I hadn’t done it before. I think it makes the film pretty unique, as compared to other college-age films. A lot of directors I respect have mastered it, and it allowed us to create these really beautiful moments that feel so much more real than what I could’ve written.

DT: Did you always intend for Melanie to play the more aggressive role in the relationship? Why?

HF: I did. I think we imagine that it’s always the guy in a domestic abuse narrative, or at least that’s kind of the consensus. Making Melanie the aggressor gave me the chance to explore the female character in a way that I don’t think a male director could have. I wanted it to come off as confusing for people. I wanted them to question whether or not it was abuse. 

DT: What experiences of your own did you draw on for the film?

HF: I only dated my college boyfriend for two years, and there was no violence. I thought that if I was able to create these characters, and I could see myself in their scenario, I would have succeeded. Even though I wrote Mel as an extension of myself, I started to relate more to Dan. I thought it was really interesting that I was able to jump from understanding one character to the other. 

DT: You, Farmiga and Rosenfield lived together in the Berkshires for a little while before filming. How did that process go?

HF: Taissa actually drove her car three or four hours to the Berkshires, and we just hung out, cooked food and talked about movies. We listened to music the characters would like, [Rosenfield] created a playlist for the film, and really it was just about getting a feel for each other and the characters. 

DT: Did any changes to the story come out of that time in the Berkshires?

HF: There weren’t any significant changes to the storyline, but one of my favorite scenes came out of a conversation we had at dinner. When [Rosenfield and Farmiga] talk about their first time in the movie, that was originally a scenario I threw out one day, and we kept building on it, and it made it into the film. 

DT: How did the film make its way to Austin and UT?

HF: I went to college in Indiana, and I was originally going to shoot it there, but I spoke with [executive producer] Mark Duplass, and he thought that was ridiculous. He suggested Austin, and even though I went to college in a different city, there was a big music scene there, so I was able to draw on that and my own experience with my first real boyfriend. 

DT: What do you think people of all ages can get out of the film?

HF: I think most people have had that first love, and the majority of the time it doesn’t necessarily work out. The future that I planned in college isn’t what happened, and I think that’s the case for a lot of people. For college students, I hope they can relate to it in real time.

Title: "6 Years"

Run Time: 80 minutes

Available: On demand, Netflix